During the 2015 season of commencement speeches, lucky Amherst students heard from astrophysics legend Neil deGrasse Tyson, who, in his own words, shared “things you should know going forward in life.”
His talk focused primarily on the necessity of wider scientific literacy, and the power of technological and scientific progress. He noted that even cavemen, with all the clean water, clean air, and “free range” food they wanted, still only had a life expectancy of 35, thanks to a lack of scientific inquiry.
We think Neil’s words are worth resurfacing as we head towards the end of summer, and get back to the grind of daily life. Read his top advice below!
Role Models Are Overrated
“Had I required as a pre-requisite that another Black man from the Bronx had to become an astrophysicist for me to become one, I’d still be in the Bronx. If you require a role model who looks just like you to be something you want to be, and you can’t find one, is that a reason to not be what you want to be? No!
“You can assemble your role models. Get the people who do what you like. But you don’t have to be them. Be the piece of them that you want to be. Someone is moral? Do that. Someone is athletic? Do that. So you don’t have to be the whole person. That protects you from when the person messes up in some fundamental way. […] I’d encourage people to assemble their role models à la carte. That is far more potent a way to establish what it is you may become in this world.”
Objective truths are true whether or not you believe in them
“It has become a pastime to blame politicians for the ills of the world. And I understand the urge to do that. I get that. However […] at the end of the day, the politician is a representative of an electorate. I go to Washington but I don’t beat the politicians over the head. They are duly elected officials. If you have an issue with our politicians, it’s because you have an issue with your fellow citizens who put them there. So if there is a politician who is sure that the universe is 6,000 years old, it’s because there are people walking among us who think that. As an educator, it is my duty to teach people about the methods and tools of science, how and why it works, because the engines of tomorrow’s economy depend on it. Innovations in science and technology will drive the 21st century’s technology.
“…. The laws of physics affect us all. Objective truths are true whether or not you believe in them. If you are not scientifically literate in the 21st century, you will have disenfranchised yourself from important decisions that affect us all. Science literacy is not how much you know, it’s how your brain is wired for thought.”
Space holds more answers than you think
“Do not forget that Earth is really good at killing you. Over 97% of the species of life on Earth that have ever existed are now extinct because of Earth. So we think of Earth as a haven, but in fact it is out to kill us at every opportunity it gets. It’s our ingenuity in spite of that fact that prevents it.
“If you want us to exist and thrive into the future, and you’re one of these people who think, “I don’t need space; I solve all my problems here on Earth,” while meanwhile there’s unlimited energy and unlimited resources [outside of Earth]—this is what you’re saying to yourself? Move back to the cave, because that’s where you’ll land when this is over.”
“We live in a world where not everyone has the urge to help others.
“I’m reminded of a saying that went around for a while; they say, “We need people to lift themselves up by their bootstraps.” […] It is ok to encourage others to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. But if you do, just remember that some people have no boots.”
Watch the full speech here: